Yoga as Therapy: Positive Effects on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

By Ashley Curry, Yoga Instructor, Prime of Life Yoga, re:YOGA Staff + Writer



Over 20 million people in the United States alone [1] pursue yoga for its stress-relieving effects and to improve their well-being, but for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the practice can offer powerful methods for coping with the effects of trauma.


Having personally experienced PTSD for many years, I can say with certainty that yoga brought tremendous healing to all areas of my mental and physical health.



What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition caused by a singular traumatic life event, a recurring event, or multiple events. For many with PTSD, they’re haunted by an overwhelming perception of having become an anxiety-ridden mine field, drowning in a sea of depression, and caught in a web of perpetual uneasiness. People who are symptomatic of PTSD often relive the event(s) that traumatized them through nightmares, flashbacks, or triggers. They also avoid circumstances that remind them of their trauma, have transformed beliefs about themselves, others, and the world, feel on alert, struggle with insomnia, and/or possess an inability to concentrate [2]. Sadly, this crippling condition affects around 5 million people in the United States annually [3].


Trauma affects people differently. In my case, I developed a deep separation inside in order to protect myself. Frankly, I didn’t even realize just how disconnected I was until I began my practices in asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), and dhyana (meditation). These powerful tools help to re-establish the essential mind-body connection and were key in my healing process. When I began practicing yoga, it forced me to become present, confront what demons lurked within, breathe and learn calmness, and most importantly, reconnect with my surroundings in a meaningful way. To say that yoga helped me is an understatement.



How can yogic practices improve the quality of life for those experiencing devastating symptoms?

Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Ph.D, lead researcher for a study on yoga’s effects on veterans and PTSD, and an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School adeptly noted:


“What we believe is happening, is that through the control of attention on a target — the breath, the postures, the body — that kind of awareness generates changes in the brain, in the limbic system, and these changes in thinking focus more in the moment, less in the past, and it quiets down the anxiety-provoking chatter going on in the head. People become less reactive and the hormone-related stress cycle starts to calm down.” [4]


During the study, researchers discovered that these “anxious, reactive, and stress” symptoms of PTSD were improved after just ten brief weeks of yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation completed twice a week and practiced daily on their own for 15 minutes [4].



How about stress?

Stress can be used in a positive way like when we need to overcome obstacles, but when it is constantly looming overhead, the stress response can lead to health problems; such as high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, and can also quash the immune system, which increases the susceptibility to illnesses [5].


For people with PTSD, constant stress can adversely affect their physical and mental well-being due to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response). Harvard Medical School cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson recognized in the 1970s that deep breathing switches the parasympathetic nervous system on (which is responsible for “rest-and-digest” activities) and can thus combat stress and the effects of stress [5].  By taking deep belly breaths, the lungs can take in a full range of air, whereas shallow breathing limits the lower portion of the lungs from doing so. This shallow breathing can add to feeling “short of breath and anxious” [5]. Thus, adding simple breath control practices, particularly slow exhalations, can reduce day-to-day stress and even aid in combating more severe symptoms such as those experienced with PTSD.


Knowledge, experience, and heart.

The dedicated team members at re:YOGA Therapy and Wellness have made it our mission to pass on these types of lasting change on to our students. By pooling our knowledge of physical exercises, breath work, and meditation practices, we’ve created a range of therapeutic services that have resulted in extraordinary transformations. Some of our services include classes taught to adolescents and adults struggling with mental health disorders at rehabilitation centers (Paradigm and Passages, Malibu), private yoga therapy sessions for individuals, small group supportive classes at our studio, as well as community classes taught to the public.


If you or a loved one is experiencing challenges from anxiety or trauma, contact us to see how we can help you rediscover and regain your quality of life.


Blessings to your health,
Ashley Curry + the re:YOGA Team



[1] Yoga Journal. 5 December 2012. 14 May 2016.
[2] PTSD: National Center for PTSD. 13 August 2015.
[3] Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 2007.
[4] Zimmerman, Rachel. wbur’s CommonHealth Reform and Reality. 8 December 2010.
[5] Guide, The Family Health. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant  stress response. 18 March 2016.

Sleep Well, Live Better

By Prema Jyoti, re:YOGA Therapist + Instructor, Meditation Guide


Difficulty with sleeping has been a growing and prevailing problem in our modern and face-paced lifestyles. In fact, a lack of healthy and nurturing sleep is being described by many as an epidemic.


Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a variety of debilitating health issues including:


  • Reduced productivity
  • Mood issues,
  • Reliance on sleep drugs and caffeine
  • Weight gain
  • Poor mental health, including depression
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Low sex drive
  • Relationship difficulties


Disrupted sleep can easily turn into a vicious and hard-to-interrupt cycle, and unless there is an identifiable medical problem or illness behind it, disrupted sleep is ultimately traced back to the ‘T Word’ – Tension.


Tension dramatically reduces the ability to actually rest and properly nourish the body tissues, which results in the build-up of toxins and hormones, leading to more tension. When we are tense we can’t relax and so it becomes harder to sleep. The sleep we do get is then not of the same quality and we wake up feeling tired. More tension builds up… further inability to sleep… then a fear of not going to sleep due to past bad experiences… more tension.


So do we need to relax about sleep? Yes, most definitely. Along with the genuine disruption in sleep pattern may also come a sleep obsession. Often people are so obsessed with the need to get ‘proper sleep’ that they think they are sleeping less than they really are. This creates an obsessive fear reaction in the brain circuits. Once this pattern sets in it is very difficult to fall asleep, and when sleep does come, it is disturbed.


Unfortunately, people are reaching for pharmaceutical pills or self-medicating with recreational drugs, alcohol, or food as Band-Aid solutions to the deeper underlying problem of tension within their system.


The use of sleeping pills and tranquilizers means that people build up a tolerance to these chemical substances and thus, the requires increased dosages to get the original effects. Eventually the drugs lose their effectiveness and when withdrawn they leave behind the undesirable effects of no sleep the first night and disturbed sleep the next few nights. Even though this situation is temporary, the individual may panic and decide that he was better off with the drugs, thus getting back into the same old rut.


There are many natural ways to break the vicious cycle of disrupted sleep or insomnia, so of these – such as herbal teas, warm milk drinks, herbal supplements still deal with the symptoms rather than the underlying cause.


Increasing physical exercise also helps with releasing built us stress and tension. Forms of exercise that are engaged in order to feel tired and ready for rest, also may have the affect of increasing overall stress on the system.


Yoga is scientifically designed to relax the mental and physical tensions so that sleep comes quickly and easily. Yoga, in its fullest expression allows a person to find the ‘middle path’, for their system where the mind, body and the deeper layers of consciousness harmonize. In yoga when we are in a complete state of balance this also known as the ‘sattvic’ frequency. When our systems achieve this state of homeostasis, underlying tensions and even past traumas release at their root rather than show themselves as wounds to be bandaged from time to time.



The Good News

With some easy to follow simple yogic techniques, in most cases a return to your own natural nurturing sleep pattern is possible. Many people even experience instant improvements.


Techniques within Yoga that are known to help to heal your sleep cycle are:


  • Restorative postures such as Shashankasana (Childs Pose) and Pawanmuktasana (specialized joint rotations).
  • Breathing techniques that invoke the parasympathetic nervous system – restoring a restful state.
  • Cleansing techniques to rid the mind of tension
  • Yoga Nidra – Guided Deep Relaxation, which is excellent both to release deep underlying tensions and as a means to induce sleep.


Yoga in this way may be given as a Yogic Prescription – a unique mix of techniques and solutions that suit your individual needs and current lifestyle. Yoga Nidra, in particular is a deep relaxation that can written especially for you and then recorded so that you have it to listen to during the day to systematically relieve and release tension and also at bedtime to lead you into the most optimal brainwave pattern for excellent and restful sleep.


Psychologically, doing something active for your total wellbeing rather than passively taking a sleeping pill or having that extra glass of wine before bed will empower you to take charge of the situation and ultimately develop a new healthy and beautiful relationship with bedtime and the renewing gift of sleep.


Try Child’s Pose for 3-5 minutes before going to bed. This posture calms the nervous system, brings rest and renewal to the spine, regulates the function of the adrenal glands, and brings us to a more internalized state ready for sleep.